Saturday, May 22, 2010

UCI: A Dirty Deal - The Unjustified Firing of Vladimir Gusev

According to the English-translation of an article reposted by NY Velocity, the case of the Russian rider Vladimir Gusev uncovers the concealment, the parallel system of justice and the abuse of power in the International Cycling Union UCI. It also suggests how riders like Lance Armstrong and his team director Johan Bruyneel have been able to get away with the accusations such as the ones their former teammate Floyd Landis launched this week. I myself am privy to less-than-flattering details of questionable dealings by UCI officials (more on that sometime later), and despite what's been said by some, it's absolutely possible to corrupt the anti-doping process by encouraging manipulation on the UCI side. But the following article is even more damning than any accusations we could level. Apologies to both NY Velocity and Klaus Wivel for reposting...

The Unjustified Firing

By KLAUS WIVEL, Weekendavisen, May 22, 2010

FEW examples are better at illustrating how the top of the international cycling world works than the case of Vladimir Gusev.

According to many critics the story of the Russian rider shows the power abuse, it shows how the greatest teams get special treatment, and it reveals the system of parallel justice which prevails independently of the sports courts and which riders have to follow. Thus, cycling’s most famous team manager Johan Bruyneel has been able to give orders to the presumably independent anti-doping department of the International Cycling Union UCI.

The case adds fuel the allegations that Bruyneel and his main rider Lance Armstrong has received special treatment by the UCI doping authorities. This week Wall Street Journal reported that their former teammate, the scandalized American rider Floyd Landis, accused Armstrong of systematic doping with help from Bruyneel.

According to Weekendavisen’s sources the treatment of Vladimir Gusev reveals the power abuse and the parallel justice prevailing outside the official sport courts.

The story can also been seen as another example of the socalled 'black list' that several riders and observers believe prevails in UCI (see article 'Fxxx off', Weekendavisen, March 26, 2010, ed.). This “black list” allegedly points to the fact that some riders are being punished and others get allowed to run although they have made the same offense.

The story of Russian rider’s misfortune also tells of the law of silence which dominates professional cycling which is why it is appropriate to give a note of warning: If you as a journalist wish to get to the bottom of this story then you are forced to use hidden sources. Crucial parts of this article is based on testimonies from people who do not wish their names to appear. I should also state that Vladimir Gusev himself and his lawyer have not wished to contribute to the article.

The story begins in autumn 2007. The young and talented Russian is riding for the Kazakh team Astana which is only just over a year old and in which several riders already have been found guilty of doping. Among is also the founder of Astana, Kazakhstan's star rider Alexander Vinokourov, who was taken for blood doping during the Tour de France in 2007 and kicked out of the race with his team.

Astana is in other words in a crisis. To clean up and restore a positive image Belgian team director Johan Bruyneel is recruited. One of the first thing he does is to associate the Danish anti-doping doctor Rasmus Damsgaard, who has successfully established an internal anti-doping program on Bjarne Riis' Team CSC – a team which met its great challenge during the scandalous Spanish Operation Puerto in 2006. By virtue of his independent test system Damsgaard shall act as a guarantor that the riders are clean so that Astana may send a signal to the outside world that the team takes the fight against doping seriously.

Bruyneel also recruits Alberto Contador who he managed when the Spaniard won the Tour de France in 2007. Therefore it comes as an unpleasant surprise for the team when the organization behind the Tour de France in February 2008 announces that the team will not be allowed to participate in Tour de France 2008 because of the many doping scandals depriving Contador of his opportunity to defend his yellow jersey. Astana is suddenly in danger of closing. More than ever Bruyneel needs to show that Astana can take care of the problem.

In May 2008 Rasmus Damsgaard discovers that Vladimir Gusev has "abnormal blood values". According to the Dane the test suggests that Gusev has taken the performance-enhancing drug EPO. Damsgaard informs Bruyneel of his findings.

Two months later - in the middle of a TV broadcast on Belgian TV, where he is hired as a commentator for the Tour de France 2008 - Bruyneel announces that he has fired Gusev on the basis of their internal anti-doping program. The message receives maximum press coverage and the news goes around the world.

Fighting doping is not what the Belgian sports director and former rider has been known for. Alongside Lance Armstrong he built a bicycle empire during the American's seven year reign over Tour de France until Armstrong retired in 2005. And it had always seemed as if the two led a war against doping inspectors and too pushy questions from journalists and others who suggested that American's incredible feat was based on illegal drugs. They were often met with letters from Armstrong’s and Bruyneel’s lawyer.

Floyd Landis is probably receiving the same kind of letters these days. This week the Wall Street Journal reported that the American rider who was stripped of his victory in the Tour de France in 2006 after testing positive for testosterone send three emails to the highest authorities of cycling, including the UCI. In the mails Landis describe how he and several other American riders, including Armstrong, whom Landis rode with at U.S. Postal, used dope for years, among others blood transfusions and EPO. Landis could also report that it was Bruyneel who in 2002 and in 2003 introduced him to doping. The team manager told him how to use EPO and blood doping without being detected by the doping authorities.
In the very detailed emails Landis writes that the blood bags were stored in a refrigerator which was hidden in Armstrong's closet. Landis calls the fight against doping a 'charade'.

Landis also states that Armstrong in 2002 “while winning the Tour de Swiss, the month before the Tour de France, tested positive for EPO at which point he and Mr Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement with Mr. Verbruggen to keep the positive test hidden.” Mr Verbruggen was at that time the president of the International Cycling Union UCI.

Both Bruyneel and Armstrong has rejected the accusations and accused Landis of trying to blackmail them.

Perhaps more surprisingly Pat McQuaid, the now president of UCI who always talks of his firm commitment in fighting doping, did not pause for many hours before he flat out refused to give Landis’ allegation any credit. McQuaid questioned Landis’ motives and indicated that statements given by a doping sinner should not by taken at face value.

When he was UCI president, Hein Verbruggen has actually told the press that Armstrong for years had given a considerable amount of money to UCI’s anti-doping campaing. When Verbruggen informed the press about this Eurosport wondered why captain Armstrong really supported the ones who had plagued him for years and who have pushed good friends as Tyler Hamilton into a scandalized early retirement?

In April 2005 Eurosport asked Armstrong if Verbruggen was correct and the American confirmed.
"So, if I've done money to the UCI to combat doping, step up controls and to fund research, it is not my job to issue a press release. That's a secret thing, because it's the right thing to do," the former cancer patient replied although he never made any secret of his massive financial support for cancer research.

Armstrong admitted that it ”wasn't a small amount of money" he had given to the UCI.
Armstrong himself has repeatedly been accused of doping use. Among other things the French newspaper L'Equipe in August 2005 wrote an article about six of his samples from 1999 that had been studied in a scientific experiment with new tests and which showed traces of EPO.

Because of the time period and due to the circumstances surrounding the revelation Armstrong was never a convicted. According to the The Sunday Times the three times Tour de France winner Greg Lemond stated that Armstrong revealed to him in August 2001 that he used EPO. This week on his own website Lemond writes that he believes “most of Floyd Landis’s statements”.

But Landis admites that he has no proof. Armstrong actually managed to win seven Tour de France victories as captain of an unusually clean team. Not a single rider on Armstrong and Bruyneel team were ever revealed as doping offenders. It took more than a decade until a minor Chinese rider a few weeks ago was charged at the couple's new team RadioShack for using the banned substance clenbuterol. It seems quite impressive when taking in account the wealth of doping cases that has devastated the sport the past decade.

However many have wondered why some of the riders that since switched from Armstrong and Bruyneel team to another team soon eventually would fall into the doping trap. Several of their former teammates have since been convicted, including Roberto Heras, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.

During last years Tour de France news surfaced that could indicate that the UCI were less strict when it came to controlling the riders of Armstrong and Bruyneel. At the time Armstrong had returned from his temporary retirement in an ambitious attempt to regain the Tour de France in 2009. Of course it was his old friend Bruyneel who brought him to his new team Astana in autumn 2008. With Armstrong and Contador and with a new anti-doping profile the Tour de France organizers showed mercy on the team and invited Astana to partake in the Tour de France 2009.

The road seemed paved and apparently in more senses than one.

During last year's Tour de France when Contador and Armstrong took the first and third-place the head of the French anti-doping agency Pierre Bordry complained that the UCI doping inspectors showed "laxity" when it came to doping testing Astana riders. According to French sports newspaper L'Equipe UCI inspectors drank coffee with employees of Astana and waited a full hour to test the team's riders. "There was a little bit of avoiding going on," the French minister of sport Roselyne Bachelot told French TV.

During the same tour the French anti-doping authorities found "suspicious syringes" in Astana’s waste container.

Bruyneel has dismissed the events as a form of witch hunt from the French authorities who allegedly have always been envious of the fact that it was an American - and not a Frenchman - who had taken their precious Tour. This point of view he shares with many of the journalists Weekendavisen have spoken to in connection with this article. They view the allegations as theories of conspiracy.



It may seem ironic that it is precisely the one that Bruyneel actually got fired due to evidence of doping which really gives the Belgian problems.

Vladimir Gusev sued Astana for unfair dismissal and taking the case to sport's highest legal body CAS. He wins in summer 2008. There was no valid evidence that Gusev had "violated the rules of UCI and/or WADA," as stated in the sentence. As compensation Astana owners is asked to pay the young Russian rider over 650,000 euros in damages. A very considerable amount.

Until now the story has been based on open sources. Here the closed sources begin to take over.
Despite the CAS-decision Gusev experiences that no team wishes to hire him, according to the sources because Bruyneel spread the rumor that the young Russian had stuffed himself with EPO. The compensation which Astana’s owners owed Gusev was also being delayed.

In the spring of 2009 WADA changed the rules which made it possible to test for the kind of EPO, Rasmus Damsgaard told Bruyneel he had found in Russian’s urine sample and get him convicted.
Damsgaard while still working for Astana asked Anne Gripper - who was then leader of the UCI anti-doping office – that she should consider Gusev’s test again according to the new WADA laws. She did as she had been told.

According to the critics this was a crucial mistake. This made UCI vulnerable for charges that the anti-doping work did not work independently of the teams. According to Weekendavisen’s sources UCI actively and on demand from a private team tried to get a rider convicted who had a CAS verdict that his firing was unjustified. They view this as evidence that Bruyneel does indeed get special treatment from UCI.

Gusev and his lawyers got wind of the new initiative and took action. Through a confidential litigation in a civil court in Switzerland they accused UCI of testing samples that were taken in connection with an internal control in Astana. In addition they accused UCI of giving Gusev's name to the laboratory where the samples according to the law must be anonymised in order to prevent power abuse.
The Swiss Civil Court judged in favor of Gusev and his team. UCI was not allowed to reconsider his samples. The case also came before CAS and sport the highest legal authority reiterated verdict from the civil court.

This case was completed some weeks ago and finally Gusev got his money from Astana’s owners. By now he had won all the trials, but he still had no team, although almost two years had gone by since Astana fired him.

But Gusev had a trump card. He could sue UCI for damages. A new civil trial threatened to be long and expensive and Pat McQuaid devised a plan. According to Weekendavisen’s sources he suggested Gusev a deal. If the Russian did not demand compensation from the UCI, Pat McQuaid would in turn help him find a team. The 27-year-old Russian would rather ride than to spend the rest of his cycling career in the courtrooms. He said yes.

At the beginning of this month Gusev signed contract with the new Russian ProTour team Katusha.

According to Rasmus Damsgaard he himself took initiative to contact the UCI because he believed that Gusev's EPO result should be reconsidered under the new WADA-laws.

"The fact is that all urine samples followed the usual anti-doping practices and that the tests I was planning on Astana riders were UCI samples. The trails are judged on a wrong basis."

The Danish doctor says he proofed that Gusev was doped.

"I do not believe that Gusev is cleared of the accusations. The Russian is only represented by some talented lawyers who have managed to raise doubts among judges about the technicalities," says Damsgaard. He states that Bispebjeg Hospital where he worked can not be categorized as a private company. It was certified by the UCI to view the samples.

“My work on the bike teams have always been conducted under the condition that all samples were taken, analyzed and evaluated in accordance with WADA and UCI rules," says Rasmus Damsgaard.
Damsgaard believes that the Gusev case should be viewed as a story about doping sinners who was protected by outdated rules.

Weekendavisen’s sources on the other hand says that the case shows that the UCI and the cycling’s top manager can determine who is to ride and not ride. The sources also say that Gusev’s case reveals that Bruyneel, whose riders not until recently has tested positive for doping, has direct influence on UCI’s anti-doping work.

“The current system is not sufficiently transparent and the key roles are not sufficiently independent. The UCI acts as administrator, investigator, prosecutor and judge,” says Martin Hardie an anti-doping expert and lecturer in law at Deakin University in Australia.

“It matches the anonymous samples against the names of riders, decides who will be prosecuted and whether they are guilty. This situation is fraught with legal problems. It also renders the UCI vulnerable to allegations of improper and unfair conduct. Allegations such as these in the Gusev matter reflect serious mistrust in the integrity of the UCI. Proper and transparent processes will protect not only the riders but also the UCI”

Martin Hardie views the Gusev case is yet another example of the tendency which has bothered riders, managers and cycle reporters for a long time: It reveals that some riders can do anything without being punished and other riders are being punished even if they are acquitted.

For example, the International Cycling Union works actively at expanding the prohibition to the whole world which the Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde has recieved against riding in Italy. Valverde was allegedly involved in the case of blood doping known as Operation Puerto in 2006, but he has never been banned by the Spanish Cycling Union. However his compatriot Contador who has worked for Bruyneel until recently whose his initials allegedly were found on some of the many blood bags in 2006 is still free to ride. UCI is not running any campaign against him nor are they pursuing Fränk Schleck from Bjarne Riis’ CSC Team although he also was in involved in Operacion Puerto because he send money to the doctor who is charged with running the illegal program.

From Michael Rasmussen's case we also know that some riders who are have served their doping convictions are excluded for life while others are allowed to return. Two of these riders play a key role in this year's Giro d'Italia. One, the Italian Ivan Basso - who in 2007 received a two year ban for his part in Operacion Puerto and apologised after having served his sentence - got a big contract and is riding excellently. The second, Alexander Vinokourov - who also served a two-year sentence - returned to Astana although he made no apology. He also rides incredibly well again.

When the Kazakhstani recently won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Christian Prudhomme, head of Tour de France - which also organizes the spring classics – said that he is now free to participate in this year's edition of the Tour de France.

"It's like in real life. Vinokourov made a mistake, he was punished, he has served his sentence and returned," the director declared.

These principles do not apply to everybody. Michael Rasmussen who unlike Vinokourov has never been tested positive cannot return. Perhaps it is because he continues to complain about these unfair conditions.

”The UCI’s conduct renders it vulnerable to accusations that it plays favourites with those coming back from bans,” the Australian Martin Hardie says.

“Favoritism would be a clear breach of the UCI's duty to treat all its constituency in a fair and impartial manner. This possibility adds to the concerns of riders who are still subject to a ban that they could be sacrificial lambs, offered to show some evidence of action against doping, while the administrative status quo is preserved.”

Pat McQuaid has assured Weekendavisen two months ago that he does not interfere with whom the ProTour teams employ - or don’t employ. He stated this was when the president was asked to respond to allegations that the UCI is threatening teams who wishes to hire Michael Rasmussen. The Gusev case shows that he himself certainly believes that he has the ability to interfere. It did not take long after Gusev and McQuaid reached their secret agreement before the Russian rider was back in top cycling again.


Weekendavisen has not been able to secure a statement from Pat McQuaid, Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong.

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